Store selection

The road trip at the heart of this documentary took my cameraman, Brayden, and me to 28 indie bookstores around the East Coast.

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I chose the stores we visited on the road by three criteria.

  1. Proximity to our planned route - our route was determined by where I had friends who could offer us a couple of couches for a night

  2. Size of Instagram following - when I had to decide between two stores along our route, the store with the larger Instagram following usually won. I included some smaller stores to be representative of all sizes, but I knew stores with a larger social following could share the film to more people and therefore help us raise more money for Binc.

  3. Willingness to accommodate - we took our road trip in August of 2020, when the country was largely shut down (but when travel restrictions were lenient enough to permit our crossing of state lines). Even with our bubble-boy-level PPE, some stores were understandably reluctant to let us in.

With these criteria, we scheduled interviews at 28 lovely stores.

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Bookseller selection

When corresponding with the bookstores about the best time to film, my usual point of contact was a store owner or manager. As a matter of course, owners/managers are often who we interviewed.

When the owner/manager committed their store to being part of the film but could not be interviewed, we were directed to a bookseller on staff, either handpicked by the owner/manager or selected on a volunteer basis.

Lack of diversity

The only hint of demographic statistics I found for indie bookstores comes from the ABA's 2020 demographic survey, but the results are not shown. If you have access to the most up-to-date information on this topic, please email me (mason@masonengel.com). For lack of an industry specific number, let's assume the bookselling industry is similar in demographic breakdown to the country as a whole. According to the 2019 census, around 75% of Americans are white. That means in a random sample of 28 booksellers, we would expect 7 booksellers not to be white.

 

Of the 28 wonderful booksellers we interviewed, all 28 were white (I'm assuming demographic classification based solely on skin-tone; my apologies to any booksellers I've misidentified). 

Problems with my selection methods

Why did our 28-bookseller sample not produce racial diversity?

I believe my selection methods are partially to blame. The 28 booksellers we interviewed comprise a roughly random sample, but there may be a slight skew toward more "successful" bookstores. Success in business is at least partially correlated to race, where white business owners have better odds. By choosing a subset of bookstores that are more successful than average, therefore, I may have unintentionally created a whiter subset.

 

 Here are the two selection criteria that could explain this oversight.

  1. I usually chose stores close to major interstates. Stores with access to more desirable real estate may be more successful on average.

  2. I usually chose with large Instagram followings. This led to a set of bookstores that are more popular than an average store.

In addition to the whiteward skewing of our bookstore sample, the method by which we found booksellers to interview may also contribute to the film's lack of diversity.

Racial representation is more equitable at the "bottom" of the workforce than at the top. That is, minority groups are most likely underrepresented in managerial roles in indie bookstores. By interviewing mostly owners and managers, then, I skewed the sample even more drastically.

Summary

This is far from a true selection analysis--I'm sure there are lurking variables I've not identified--but it helps explain the lack of diversity in our sample.

Whiteward skew #1 stems from my selection of more "successful" bookstores

Whiteward skew #2 stems from my disproportionate interviewing of managers and owners

The second factor was probably more influential than the first.

How I could have done better

  1. I could have recognized the bias in my sample earlier on and corrected it

  2. I could have actively sought out a more diverse cast of subjects

Even if I had assembled a truly random sample of booksellers, it's impossible to say whether the film would have looked any different. All I can do now is acknowledge I made a mistake, apologize to the bookselling community, and try to make amends.

I'm sorry. I'm disappointed I didn't do better, and I'm working to change that. Click here to learn what I'm doing and how you can help.